Even with all the changes that have come this year, from the schedule to the return of practice and qualifying, the new car and new procedures, the one consistent is that in the end, it’s all about getting that victory.
For one weekend each year, that victory is not about points, a playoff spot, or a quest for a championship. It’s just about a win, and getting a big payout.
Over the years, this race has seen so many changes, it’s hard to keep up, and maybe in a sense that has caused this event to lose a bit of luster. Even when it was run all those years at Charlotte, 1985 then 1987 through 2019, something about this particular race was always amazing, because for years this event was about pushing the limits, without much worry about penalties or consequences.
Least that’s the first thought when the first All-Star Race was ran in 1985, since right after the checkered flag waved on Darrell Waltrip’s victory, his car went up in smoke. Guess Junior Johnson wanted to guarantee that the engine didn’t get inspected.
But there’s always that one race where even abiding by the rules results in consequences. Just ask Ray Evernham.
The legacy that is T-Rex is well known, now 25 years later. If there ever was a car designed that was done by the rule book, but pushing that rule book to the absolute max but still not breaking it, that car and the group of engineers that built it certainly T-Rex fit the bill. And then, that same night, Bill France told Evernham to call Mr. Hendrick to say the car was illegal, even after passing inspection and being built correctly.
It took just four words for that to change, with Mr. France simply saying, “It won’t be tomorrow.”
At the same time, that luster seems to have faded, since the rule book that at one time was not that large, maybe the size of a cookbook, now has become so technical that teams don’t even try to push into the grey area. Instead, this race seemed to become a test session for NASCAR, trying out new ideas, setups, and looks to see what can and won’t work. From the fins in the hood, to how the number was placed, it became about new ideas from NASCAR to potentially put towards the car that the sport now uses each weekend.
Has this race lost it’s luster, and it’s meaning?
Toss out the All-Star Race in 2020 that came at Bristol, one that was not planned but necessary because of the pandemic and restrictions in the North Carolina area. Last year it moved to Texas, where it is again tonight, and gave it a rock-and-roll theme, complete with a concert literally right up to the green flag. I mean, who doesn’t love to hear “I Can’t Drive 55” while the field of cars is making pace laps.
At the same time, this race for years was one where seeing drivers break out different looks, one-off designs, just for this event. From the iconic “Quick Silver” that no one even knew about until the car came out of the hauler, to the Power of Pride schemes Jimmie Johnson ran several times in his career.
Now, with multiple primary sponsors, a special paint scheme is a rarity in NASCAR. So, this event just doesn’t seem to have the magnitude it did years ago.
But does winning this race mean nothing?
Not in the least, because in the end, every driver wants to win and take home that $1 million payout. It still has meaning to take the checkered flag, especially when for some it’s the first time they’ve been to victory lane in any aspect. Michael Waltrip stunned the entire field, winning in 1996 after qualifying through the Open, and taking advantage on a final restart. Years later, some rookie named Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the first rookie to ever win the race.
Fast forward another nine years, a new team, with a new owner, got the first win for the organization in the All-Star Race. It was some guy named Tony Stewart, winning a race for his own team.
This event still has meaning, and it still is a career-defining moment to win. Plus, $1 million to the victor is never a bad thing. And when someone loses, sometimes it is that anger that comes out that makes a memory. After all, D.W’s team in 1989 got in a fight with race winner Rusty Wallace’s crew, since in Waltrip’s eyes, “Greed overcame speed.”
Then there’s that time the Busch brothers wrecked in this race, and still had issues up until Thanksgiving when mama had to step in.
No matter the track, the date, format or lead-up, the All-Star Race still is important to anyone involved. Someone is taking home a big payday, and in the end, that is a trophy worth fighting for.